Home News Biden lauds port czar Porcari — despite US supply chain crisis

Biden lauds port czar Porcari — despite US supply chain crisis


President Biden on Wednesday praised his “port envoy” John Porcari for doing a “heck of job” — twice calling him by the wrong first name — while discussing mounting shipping-container backlogs that threaten the timely delivery of everyday consumer goods, Christmas gifts and even the trees to put them under.

Biden applauded Porcari’s work as he announced that the Port of Los Angeles would move to a 24/7 work schedule following the emergency example of the nearby Port of Long Beach, which expanded hours three weeks ago to alleviate the mounting supply chain crunch.

“I especially want to thank Joe Porcari. And I think Joe’s done one heck of a job, my special envoy specifically on ports, who’s been working this issue with all the stakeholders for the past several weeks,” Biden said, twice mangling his trusted envoy’s name in the White House East Room.

Despite the situation worsening over the past few months, Biden said that he’s been focused on the supply-chain issue since February.

“I know you’re hearing a lot about something called supply chains and how hard it is to get a range of things from a toaster to sneakers to bicycles to bedroom furniture. And that’s why back in February I signed… an executive order on supply chains and what we had to move on them,” Biden said.

“I want to thank my supply chain disruption task force, which we set up in June — led by Secretaries [of Transportation Pete] Buttegeig, [of Commerce Gina] Raimondo and [of Agriculture Tom] Vilsack — and my director of the National Economic Council, Brian Deese.”

The White House announced on Aug. 27 that John D. Porcari would be the port envoy. He was a deputy transportation secretary during the Obama administration.

Biden’s use of the term “heck of a job” for Porcari comes amid appearances to the contrary.

John Porcari
John Porcari was a deputy transportation secretary during the Obama administration. Porcari was named “port envoy” in August.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

A backlog of nearly 100 large ships has remained near the Los Angeles coast for more than a month waiting to unload goods. The issue gained broad attention this week as the crisis dragged on, threatening the timely delivery of gifts for the holidays.

Politicians avoid declaring that someone has done a “heck of a job” because of the term’s infamous use by President George W. Bush to praise FEMA Director Michael Brown after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. Many critics felt Brown had not done a good job and the remark was used to portray Bush as aloof during a difficult disaster response.

President Joe Biden
President Biden mistakenly called his “port envoy” John Porcari, Joe, on October 13, 2021.
Getty Images

Biden on Wednesday also praised the labor union that mans the Port of Los Angeles for committing to staff the facility around the clock. The Los Angeles and Long Beach ports together process about 40 percent of international shipping containers entering the US.

The White House said that FedEx, UPS and Walmart also are committing to increase cargo-processing work hours so that the work never ceases.

“Walmart is committing as much as a 50 percent increase in the use of off-peak hours over the next several weeks,” Biden said.

“Additionally, FedEx and UPS, two of our nation’s biggest freight movers, are committing today to significantly increase the amount of goods they’re moving at night… Their commitment to go all in on 24/7 operations means that businesses of all sizes will get their goods on the shelves faster and more reliably.”

Container ships moored off the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports in Long Beach, California, U.S., on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021.
Container ships are moored off the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports in Long Beach, California.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

But Biden also said that he would seek to shame any businesses that he feels aren’t doing enough. On a background call with reporters Tuesday evening, a Biden administration official said “now we’re looking to trucking and freight to expand hours as well to help with bottlenecks.”

Biden said that “if federal support is needed, I’ll direct all appropriate action. And if the private sector doesn’t step up, we’re going to call them out and ask them to act.”

Critics say Biden bears some of the blame for the logjam by boosting consumer demand with generous COVID-19 stimulus funds, which also are blamed for high inflation and a record number of people quitting their jobs, leading to a record number of job openings, including in the trucking industry, which is at the center of the supply chain bottleneck.

But White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that it was “inevitable” that there would be economic disruptions following the pandemic — and that Biden has been working on the issue of supply chains for eight months.

“Thanks to the president’s executive order in February, the launch of the supply chain disruptions task force in June and the appointment of a dedicated port envoy in August, public and private sector leaders took another important step and coming together today to speed up the shipment of goods throughout the country by moving towards 24/7 operations,” she said.

The changes “will move more goods faster including toys, just in case you’re wondering,” Psaki said at her daily press briefing.

But Psaki would not guarantee that the problems would be fixed quickly.

“Based on everything being announced today, can this administration guarantee that holiday packages will arrive on time?” Ed O’Keefe of CBS News asked Psaki at her daily press briefing.

“We are not the Postal Service or UPS or FedEx. We cannot guarantee. What we can do is use every lever at the federal government’s disposal to reduce delays,” Psaki said.

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